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The Freedom The Ogoni People Seek

By Fegalo Nsuke

The Ogoni are an indigenous group occupying the southern part of Nigeria. Richly endowed with natural oil and gas resources and numbering about 1,000,000 people. It has capacity to produce an estimated 400,000 - 500,000 barrels of oil daily, more than the capacity of the rest of present day Rivers State. Ogoni can also generate more revenue than 20 Nigerian states put together, more than enough to run the Nigerian federation, but for corruption and looting. That drives you crazy right.

By Fegalo Nsuke

The Ogoni are an indigenous group occupying the southern part of Nigeria. Richly endowed with natural oil and gas resources and numbering about 1,000,000 people. It has capacity to produce an estimated 400,000 - 500,000 barrels of oil daily, more than the capacity of the rest of present day Rivers State. Ogoni can also generate more revenue than 20 Nigerian states put together, more than enough to run the Nigerian federation, but for corruption and looting. That drives you crazy right.

Nigeria commenced the exploitation of Ogoni oil and gas in 1958. The revenue from Ogoni helped the country establish state-owned industries, build Lagos, Abuja, Enugu, Kano, Ibadan, Kaduna and several other Nigerian cities. It helped Nigeria raise funds to prosecute the civil war in 1967. The Ogoni oil made Nigeria a celebrated oil giant as it were and led to what was then referred to as the oil boom.

Ironically, while the revenues from Ogoni developed the rest of Nigeria, Ogoni has nothing to show for over US$200billion worth of oil extracted from the area. Ogoni is desolate and the only memories we hold strongly about being Nigerians is the fact that Nigeria only uses its armies and military to repress the Ogoni people, to suppress our genuine demands for basic human rights and to force oil production in our area without our consent.

But our demands and resistance are justifiable. As a distinct ethnic nationality in Nigeria, the Ogoni people want to function within Nigeria as Ogoni people. We want our rights to self determination respected and Nigeria's approach to kill civil rights campaigners who peacefully demand fairness is unacceptable to us. The Ogoni want to benefit from its huge natural resources as of right and will love to be integrated into the Nigerian social and political system. We want to see an end to current alienation that confines us only to the evil consequences of natural resource exploitation. We want freedom in Nigeria, freedom from oppression and discrimination and freedom to control our own destiny.

When we launched our campaign in 1990, Shell denied all allegations about having destroyed the Ogoni environment until a United Nations investigation funded by Shell itself reported in 2011 that the Ogoni environment have been completely destroyed by Shell with poisonous pollution 900 times in excess of acceptable standards. Shell had been working in these environment for over 40 years and never cared until global pressures forced the UNEP investigations which produced the first scientific report inditing Shell of criminal activities which was sending the Ogoni people into extinction.

The land has been lost and destroyed by Shell. To suppress and eliminate every possibility of a community-driven challenge, the Nigerian authorities under various regimes went further to enact repressive laws that will only send the Ogoni people to death while Shell continues its racist exploitation of Ogoni resources to the benefit of very few cabals and ethnic groups outside Ogoni. The laws had been used to limit the rights of the people to the wishes of Shell and emptied our future in the pockets of greedy rulers and capitalists.

The Ogoni struggles had been borne out of our protest against these state backed repression and discrimination coupled with the irresponsible business practices of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC, Nigeria's subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell Plc) which presumed that the Ogoni people can never challenge its imprudence.

In protest against these injustices, Ken Saro-Wiwa organized the Ogoni people in 1990 to demand their rights which was outlined in a documented we call the"Ogoni Bill of Rights".

Nigeria's response to these subtle demands in the Ogoni Bill of Rights, which was open to negotiation, was a brutal clampdown by its military especially between 1993 to 1999.

The peak were the summary executions carried out by the Internal Security Task Force commanded by then Major Paul Okuntimo who killed over 4,000 Ogonis. On November 10, 1995, MOSOP leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others were executed by the Nigerian government after a sham trial which denied them every right to fair hearing. They were not allowed to appeal the death sentences.

Following global outrage, the UN Secretary General commissioned a fact-finding mission to Nigeria. The mission's report acknowledged the flawed trial noting that the tribunal which sentenced Saro-Wiwa and 8 others "didn't have the jurisdiction to try them".

Saro-Wiwa's murder was good news for Shell and the company promptly celebrated it with increased investment in Nigeria, the launching of an Ogoni re-entry department and funding more vicious crackdown on Ogoni human rights campaigners.

But this time, Shell wasn't so lucky as the Ogoni civil society had resolved to strongly resist the re-entry moves.

Twenty seven years since Shell pulled out of Ogoni and nearly 25years after Ken Saro-Wiwa's murder, oil production is yet to fully commence in Ogoni. Shell in desperation for the Ogoni oil has severally been entangled in oil theft activities. But full operations with the consent of the Ogoni people is still impossible.

MOSOP strongly opposes forceful oil resumption because of the dangers it poses to the lives of over one million Ogoni people. MOSOP has severally explained that the Ogoni environment cannot support oil production at this time as it posses great danger to the lives of the people. As a matter of fact, oil production at this time will be seriously resisted by local people and Nigeria will, with support from Shell, deploy soldiers against the protestors. The result is predictable - massive deaths in Ogoni. and that must be avoided.

No economic activity is worth the life of the people. Moreover, the Niger Delta had been relatively peaceful. Forceful oil resumption in Ogoni could draw the sympathy of the rest of Niger Delta with capacity to throw the region into unnecessary crises. These must also be avoided.

Fortunately, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, MOSOP, has opened a window for dialogue and further put forward a shopping list.

At an Ogoni Congress held March 30, 2019, and at the Central Committee meetings of MOSOP held February 6, 2020 and August 24, 2020, the Ogoni people further emphasized the demand for the exoneration of the nine Ogoni activists executed by the Nigerian government on November 10, 1995 as a fundamental demand of the Ogoni people and a necessary action to build the required goodwill and more friendly environment to address the Ogoni problem.

The exoneration will assuage the pains of the 1995 hangings and persuade the people to begin to trust and have some confidence in the government. Ken Saro-Wiwa, Barinem Kiobel, John Kpuinen, Nordu Eawo, Baribor Bera, Saturday Doobee, Felix Nuate Daniel Gbokoo and Paul Levura will never be hear with us anymore but they were killed in their innocence and therefore, their names should be cleared if Nigeria is truly committed to resolving the Ogoni problem without killing our people. That fact is incontrovertible.

We stand on the innocence of these nine men to demand their exoneration and we are convinced that it will not only help the process of resolving the Ogoni problem but will also unite our country for as a people, we will never get over the killings and repression nor can we celebrate any victory for Ogoni until the names of these nine are cleared.

These are not too much to do for a people whose resources are more than enough to run the country. Taking these steps is definitely the way to go as it will lay the foundation to moving forward on the Ogoni issue.